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International Multidisciplinary e-Journal ISSN 2277 - 4262 

Social issues in Mulk Raj Anand's Novels 'Untouchable' & 'Coolie' in Pre- 

Independent India. 

Ekta Ranjeetsingh Pan war 

359/1, sec-7-A, 

Gandhinagar (Gujarat) 

Paper Received on : 05/08/2012 
Paper Reviewed on: 14/08/2012 
Paper Accepted on: 22/08/2012 


Mulk Raj Anand's half a dozen novels deal with the social issues in pre-independent 
India. Unlike the other Indian Social novelists Sarat Chandra or Prem Chand, Anand dealt 
with the lowest strata of Indian Society - the untouchables, Coolies, Sepoy etc., M. R. Anand 
's special quality is that he had the first hand experience of all that he wrote : 

Keywords : Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable , Coolie, Pre-independent India 

Introducation : 

For writing this research paper the writer has chosen two novels of Mulk Raj Anand 
to focus on the burning problems of pre-independent Indian society. Anand's 'Untouchable' 
is a picture of a place, of a society - a picture of a place that is also an indictment of the evils 
of a decadent and perverted orthodoxy. It is a Sociological document that focuses attention 
through a sweeperboy, Bakha, on a number of customs, traditions, social-evils, etc. of Hindu 
society during 1930' s. 

Anand 's 'Coole' is epical in sweep and panorama in purview, pictures of the effects 
that the pervasive evil of class - system has no a poor hill-boy, Munoo. Munno and his fellow 
coolies are exploited by the forces of industrialization, capitalism, communalism and 

'Coolie' is visible India, that mixture of the horrible and the holy, the in-human and 
the human, the sordid and the beautiful. The general effect is panoramic, good and evil being 
thrown together as in actual life. 

The most Significant event in the history of Indian English fiction in the 1930's was 
the appearance on the scene of its major trio: Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan and Raja Rao. 
The dealt with the Indian social issues, in one way or other. 

Anand's first three novels - 'Untouchable' (1935), 'Coolie' (1936) and 'Two Leaves 
and a Bud' (1937) deal with the Indian Social issues in Pre-independent India. Anand turns to 
the lot of class of the under-priviledged, The down-trodden and the outcasts. 

Anand's fiction has been shaped by what he calls, Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -20 

International Multidisciplinary e - Journal I Ekta Ranjeetsingh Panwar (22-26) 

"The double burden on my shoulders, the AIPs of the European tradition and the 
Himalaya of my Indian past" (1) 

To his Indian past, however, Anand's attitude is ambivalent. As M. K. Naik writes :- 

"On the one hand, he is indignantly critical of he dead wood of hoary Indian tradition 
- Its obscurantism, and fossilization; On the other, as his life-long interest in ancient Indian 
art and the intuitive understanding of the Indian peasant mind, in his writings indicate he is 
equally aware of its inner and enduring aspects as well" (2) 

There is no question that Mulk Raj Anand has fashioned with 'Untouchable' and 
'Coolie', the novels that articulate the abuses of an exploited class an untouchable in 
'Untouchable', and a waif Munno in 'Coolie'. He is indeed the 'Fiery voice' of those people 
who form the untouchable caste and tyrannized child-labour like Munoo. The period of 
1930's was the seed-time of modern Independent India - a packed decade indeed when Raja 
Rao wrote : 'Kanthapura', and Anand too could not but respond to the impact of events in 
India. He wrote of the poor, for the poor and as a man of the people. 

In writing of the pariahs and the bottom dogs rather than of the elect and the 
sophisticated, he had ventured into territory that had been largely ignored till then by the 
Indian writers. For all their nationalist fervor, Bankim Chandra's novels were but romances, 
Tagore was chiefly interested in the upper and middle classes, and Sarat Chandra in the 
lower-middle classes; and Munshi Pramchand Chose his themes from the peasantry and 
humble folk of Uttar Pradesh. None of them cared to produce realistic and naturalistic fiction 
after the manner of a Balzac, or a Zola. K.R. Srinivasa Iyenger writer about the themes of 
Mulk Raj Anand :- 

"It was Anand's aim to stray lower still than ever Sarat Chandra or Premchand, to 
show to the west that there was more in the Orient than could be inferred from Omar 
Khayyam, Tagore or Kipling, and so he described a waif like Munno in 'Coolie' and 
untouchable like Bakha, and indentured labourer like Gangu and set them right at the centre 
of the scheme of cruelty and exploitation that India held in its vicious grip" (3) 

Thus, When Anand started writing fiction, he decided to prefer the familiar to the 
fancied, that he would avoid the highways of romance and sophistication but explore the 
bylanes of the outcastes and the peasants, the sepoys and the working people. To Anand it 
was no labourious exercise, rahter it was merely the easier and more natural way; he was 
himself of the proletariat and he wrote in a brisk unselfconscious way about what he had seen 
at first hand in the years of his childhood, boyhood and youth. 

'Untouchable' (1935) 

There is no question that Mulk Raj Anand has fashioned with 'Untouchable', a novel 
that articulates the abuses of an exploited class. He is indeed the 'Fiery Voice' of those 
people who form the untouchable caste, and fulfils the goal of the writer to transform 'words 
into prophesy'. Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -21 

International Multidisciplinary e - Journal I Ekta Ranjeetsingh Panwar (22-26) 

Anand's father was a subedar in Army and Anand, as a child mixed freely with the 
children of the sweepers, attached to his fahter's regiment, and such associations cutting 
across caste divisions, and continued during his boyhood and youth. These early playmates 
and friends became the heroes of his first novels. 

Recalling the occasion of writing the 'Untouchable', Anand Writes, 

"One day I read an article by Gandhiji describing how he met Uka, a Sweeper boy, 
finding him with torn clothes and hungry, he took him into his Ashram" (4) 

This seemed to be more truthful than Anand's draft-novel based on imagination. At 
that time, living in Bloomsbury, England , Anand wrote to Gandhiji seeking an appointment 
and met Gandhiji at Sabarmati Ashram. Gandhiji read Anand's draft- novel and suggested 
him to be brief, more truthful and compact, And finally the novel was published in 1935. 

The novel depicts a day in the life of Bakha, a Sweeper-boy, and brings out the impact 
on him of the various events which take place, by giving us his 'Stream of Consciourness', in 
the manner of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Bakha is eighteen year old son of Jamadar, 
Lakha who gets a pair of breeches from an English soldier, and tries to be in 'fassun' . But as 
the day begins, his work of toilet-cleaning begins. He is steady and efficient in his work. 
Bakha' s sister Sohini goes to village-well to fetch water; Kalinath, the village priest of the 
temple out of the special favour draws water to fill Sohini pail, and feels attracted to her 
beautiful body, and driving away the others suggests her to go to his house later in the day to 
clean the courtyard. When she goes to his house, he makes improper suggestions to her, and 
she starts screaming, he shouts 'polluted, polluted', and a crowd of people gather. 

Bakha reaches at that spot, after suffering at the village temple, and a caste Hindu 
whom he touched by chance, and finds Sohini standing with her face-downward, attacked by 
caste Hindus who sided with Kalinath. Bakha, understanding the situation, black with anger 
but remembering the thousands-year old slavery, controlled himself. Sending away Sohini, 
goes to collect food from door to door. There also he meets with insult, people throw loaves 
of bread towrds him as if he were a dog. 

When he returns home, he tells his father, "They think we are mere dirt because we 
clean their dirt" (5) 

In the afternoon, Bakha attends the marriage of his friend Ram Charan's sister, a 
washer-man by profession; another friend, Chota, a leather- worker' s son and Bakha forget 
the difference of sub-caste and share sugar-plums. They plan to play hockey in the evening. 
Then, Bakha goes to Havildar Charat Singh, Who unmindful of Bakha' s caste treats him 
affectionately, and gives him a new hockey-stick. The hockey-match results into a free-fight 
in which a little boy is injured and bleeds. Bakha carries the child in his arms, but the child's 
mother, instead of thanking Bakha rebukes and abuses him for having polluted her child :- 

"Oh ! you eater of your masters what have you done? .... Give me my child. You 
have defiled the house, besides wounding my son" (6) Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -22 

International Multidisciplinary e - Journal I Ekta Ranjeetsingh Panwar (22-26) 

Heart broken Bakha meets col. Hutchinson, the Christian, missionary, who takes him 
home quite lovingly and teaches him about Jesus Christ, the Saviour. Then Bakha goes to the 
'Gole Maidan' and hears the speech of Gandhiji, who talks about social reforms as solution to 
the menace of untouchability. Bakha is much encouraged by the soothing words of Gandhi. 
Then, he happens to listen to a poet, Iqbal Nath that the problem of untouchability can be 
solved if the modern flush-system toilets are introduced. 

M. K. Naik writes about the concluding part of the novel :- 

"In the end it suggests three alternative solutions to his problem :- a missionary tries 
to persuade him to embrace Christianity; he listens to Gandhiji who advocates social reform; 
and he also hears of mechanised sanitation, as the only answer possible." (7) 

'Untouchable' is a sociological document that focus attention on a number of 
customs, traditions, social evils etc. of Hindu Society during 1930's. The Untouchables lived 
in kutcha mud-walled, single-roomed cottage that is used as kitchen, sleeping room, sitting 
room, and for placing baskets, brooms etc.. There was no proper system of drainage and there 
was foul smell everywhere. The untouchables were not only poor, ill-fed, ill-clothed but also 
sick and diseased. Thus, Bakha' s mother died because of lack of treatment, and his father was 

They were also used to be subjected to great hardships by the callous caste Hindus. 
They could not draw water from the village-well. Sohini, Gulabo and other women had to 
wait for hours for a pitcher of water, that too by the caste Hindus out of generosity. They had 
to depend upon them for their daily food. When Bakha goes to collect food, a loaf of bread is 
thrown at him as if he were a dog. According to custom, when Bakha or any other 
untouchable walked through the bazar, he had to cry around 'posh, posh, sweeper coming'. 
Ever the shadow of an untouchable should not fall on caste Hindu. 

A pinch of irony makes the theme more effective. M. K. Naik writes about it :- 

" 'Untouchable' is a scathing indictment of Hindu Society and irony is the weapon of 
this indictment" (8) 

Anand finds irony which works largely through contrasting appearance with reality. 

The caste Hindu people keep them selves away even from the shadow of he 
untouchable, but of all persons, the priest Kali Nath treats Sohini like a Juice morsel of girl- 
hood to be molested with impunity. It is also ironical that shunned by the caste-Hindus, 
Bakha gets help and sympathy from Muslims, Christians and sub-caste people like 
washerman's son and Charat Singh. Bakha is offered a puff at hubble-bubble by a Muslim. 
Then, in the market place when a man was hurling abuses at Bakha for a slight chance- 
touching him, a Muslim tonga-wallah comes to his rescul. 

In his preface to the book, E.M. Forester wrote :- Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -23 

International Multidisciplinary e - Journal I Ekta Ranjeetsingh Panwar (22-26) 

" The book seems to me indescribably clean. ... It has gone straight to the heart of its 
subject and purified it" (9) 

Coolie :- 

M. R. Anand's 'Coolie' is epical in sweep and panorama in purview, pictures the 
effects that the pervasive evil of class-system has on a poor hill-boy, Munno. The novel is 
remarkable for the largeness of its canvas, the multiplicity of its characters, and the variety of 
its episodes. 'Coolie' is the pathetic odyssey of Munoo, an orphaned village-boy from Kangra 
hills, who sets out in a search of livelihood. His several roles including those of a domestic 
servant, a coolie, a factory-worker and a rickshaw-puller, take him to various places from 
Bombay to Simla, until swift tuberculasis brings his struggle to an untimely death. 

M. K. Naik writes about this novel :- 

"The novel is an indigrant Comment on the tragic denical to a simple peasant of the 
fundamental right to happiness. Munoo and his fellow Coolies are exploited by the forces of 
industrialisation, Capitalism, Communalism, and Colonialism. With its constantly shifting 
scenes, its variety of characters from all classes of society and its wealth of eventful incident, 
'Coolie' has an almost epic quality." (10) 

The chief appeal of the novel derives from Anand's ability to project a kaleidoscopic 
picture of the various emotional states through which Munoo whirled Srinivasa Iyengar has 
justly commented on 'Coolie' :- 

"If 'Untouchable' is the microcosm, 'Coolie' is more like the macrocosm that is 
Indian society." (11) 

'Coolie' is visible India, that mixture of the horrible and the holy, the inhuman and 
the human, the sordid and the beautiful. The general effect is panoramic; good and evil being 
thrown together as in actual life. 

Munoo as orphan was left to be brought up by his cruel uncle and aunt. Munoo' s cruel 
aunt keeps beating, abusing and scolding because Munoo causes financial burden upon the 
family. His uncle decides to send him to Shamnagar to appoint him as a domestic servant in 
Nathuram's house. At Shamnagar, due to his impish curiosity and juvenile buoyant spirit 
often put him to trouble. Due to the class distinction Munoo has no right to join in the merry- 
making of little girl, Sheila and her friends. He cannot eat from a plate as his social superiors 
do. His sitting for toilet in the open, breaking crockery caused for him a lot of scolding and 
beating. Scrubbing the vessels, sweeping the floor, preparing the beds and laying the table 
and ofcourse, getting abused, constituted his monotonous daily routine. Munoo comes to the 
conclusion: - 

"There are two kinds of people in the world; the rich and the poor" (12) 

Munoo steals away from Shamnagar, and he is picked up by a good Samaritan, Prabha 
Dayal who takes him to Daulatpur, where he finds a respite for sometime. There he works in Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -24 

International Multidisciplinary e - Journal I Ekta Ranjeetsingh Panwar (22-26) 

a pickle factory - bleak, airless like an inferno, that is lighted up only by the geniality of 
prabha and motherly parbati. 

There he finds gloom enveloping by the malevolent presence of the detestable, goat- 
faced, Ganpat. Due to Ganpat's cheating the factory is dissolved. Poverty and suffering are 
added by villainy and evil. Factory partner prabha is reduced to a coolie, and Munoo is 
thrown on roads. Munoo finds it hard even to find work a porter of Coolie. 

His experiences as a coolie in the grain market, and vegetable market are most 
depressing and disappointing. The pictures of coolies lying huddled at night because they do 
not have enough accommodation and their hectic search for work during day time show the 
multitudes of unemployed had to undergo in those days. 

Escaping from Daulatpur Munoo reaches Bombay with the help of an elephant driver, 
with a piece of advice :- 

" The bigger a city is, the more cruel it is to the sons of Adam. You have to pay even 
for the breath that you breathe". (13) 

Bombay, far from Munoo' s dreams proves nightmarish. He is throughly disillusioned 
at the first contact with reality. At he corner of a footpath Munoo sees a Coolie lying huddled 
: -"pillowing his head on his arm, shrinking into himself, as if he were afraid to occupy too 
much space" (14) 

The bodies of numberless lay strewn in tattered garbs, in a sleep which looked like 

At Bombay, the cotton factory where Munoo comes to work is nothing but another 
version of hell where countless lads like him are condemned to subhuman existence. The 
coolies toil with their sweat and blood, while the oppressors discuss the weather over a cup of 
tea. The cruelty of child labour is another evil in Bombay and other industrial towns, making 
little children work under abominable conditions for long hours for a paltry wages is an evil 
practise almost built-in a capitalist factory frame-work. 

In Bombay the labour exploitation is quite obvious. Munoo gets a job after much 
difficulty under Jimmy Thomas (Chimta Sahib), Who would charge commission out of their 
wages. Then, Pathan, the gate-keeper and Sikh-merchant are some other vultares of the 
Society. The street in which Munoo and Hari have hired a room in a Chawl is full of stink of 
urine and dung. There are seven latrines for two hundred persons. There are rival groups in 
the Trade-unions, and owners play politics by dividing the workers by creating communal 

From Bombay Munoo is taken to Simla in a Motor-car by an Anglo-Indian lady Mrs 
Mainwaring. Anand is auxious to present his hero in the aristacratic set up too to complete his 
social picture of suffering and exploitation. Munoo finds in Simla that there are only two 
categories of people - 'Sahib Log' and the 'Coolies' the life of plenty and luxury, and the life 
of under-employment and over work. Even the kindhearted Mrs Mainwaring is unmindful of Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -25 

International Multidisciplinary e - Journal I Ekta Ranjeetsingh Panwar (22-26) 

the over-worked Munoo as a rickshaw-puller. Soon, Munoo develops tubercalosis, and after a 
brief treatment dies in a hospital. 

Munoo' s is a fight for survival that illuminates, with raw immediacy, the grim fate of 
the masses in Pre-independent and Partition India. Premila paul writes about it :- 

" But inspite of the tragic ending 'Coolie' is not a pessimistic novel. The hope of 
humanity lies in people like prabha, Ratan, and Mohan" (15) 

Anand is aware that poetic justice is not meted out in life. However, he is optimistic 
and has firm faith in human goodness. C. D. Narsimha is of the opinion the death has ceased 
to frighten the poor, they are past fright, it is the life that is threat, and death is a release. 

References :- 

1) Naik, M.K. 'A History of Indian English Lit', quoted from M. R. Anand' s 'A 
Apology for Heroism' (Page-67) 

2) Naik, M.K. 'A History of Indian English Lit', quoted from M. R. Anand's 'A 
Apology for Heroism' (Page-155) 

3) Iyengar, K.R.S. 'Indian Writing in English' page-334 

4) Anand, M.R. 'Preface to 'Two Leaves and a Bud'. 

5) Anand, M.R. 'Untouchable' Penguine Books India, 1993 Page-70. 

6) Anand, M.R. 'Untouchable' Penguine Books India, 1993 Page-106. 

7) Naik, M.K. 'A History of Indian English Lit', Page-155 

8) Naik, M.K. 'A History of Indian English Lit', Page-156 

9) Forster, E.M. preface to 'Untouchable' 

10) Naik, M.K. 'A History of Indian English Lit', Page-156 

11) Iyenger, K.R.S. 'Indian Writing in English' Page-340 

12) Paul, Premila, 'Thematic Study of M.R. Anand's Novels. 

13) 'Coolie' Penguine Books, India, 1993. 

14) 'Coolie' Penguine Books, India, 1993. 

15) Paul, Premila, 'Thematic Study of Mulk Raj Anand's Novels'. Vol-I , Issue-VI 1 1 , August -2012 Page -26